Tag Archives: iceland

An urban thriller with a high body count

An urban thriller with a high body count

After the plodding start to the first book in the Officer Gunnhilder series of novels, the series settles down with the second story. Gunna has a new job in the serious crime unit and it is a bloody, complex tale with a body count high enough to make other fictional dectives quite jealous.

Quentin Bates has found his voice and captures the character of the Icelandic people in the aftermath of the recent financial crash. What the book lacks though is the landscape of Iceland.

This is a city story and takes place in the urban environment. The opening chapter of the first book showed us that he can make us feel the cold of the natural landscape, and I hope that in a future book we might get to see, and feel, that side of this northern thriller.

And as to the title of the book? Yes, you are kept guessing to the very last page to find out the significance. It’s worth the wait though.

Murder Mystery or Nordic Noir…?

Murder Mystery or Nordic Noir...?

9781849017756Frozen Out by Quentin Bates

I’ve not really read much detective fiction/thrillers so I am unused to the conventions of the genre but I enjoyed this book – the first in the Officer Gunnhildur series. It’s a story set at the height of the global credit crisis, and set in small-town Iceland. It’s a story that is bigger than just the murder of a man into an isolated harbour as it draws in corporate and political corruption.

You can tell that it’s supposed to be another thriller along the ‘Nordic Noir’ theme but I’m not sure it ever quite manages that. There are some very effective scenes that play with the lonely, and bleak isolation of the small town that mirrors Gunnhildur’s own life in many ways but at the same time it can be awkwardly pedestrian. There are a few too many scenes which for me tell too much but show me nothing as the action flits backwards and forwards between Reykjavik and Hvalvik.

I probably shouldn’t admit this as another English-born author who has written stories set in Iceland, but I found that even though Quentin Bates has apparently lived in Iceland for 10 years, I found that some of the language and narrative felt a bit too ‘English’. This is something that Hannah Kent (an Australian who only lived in Iceland for one year) managed so successful in her debut novel Burial Rites – indeed so much so that her portrait of Iceland is all too real.

I found the character of the Skandalblogger perhaps the most interesting meeting him or her only through their blog posts. I really hope that this is not the last we see of them, and that at some point we discover their real identity. I have my suspicions that we may have already have met them!

A book that needs no burial

A book that needs no burial

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As I am myself a foreigner inspired to write about Iceland, I was clearly going to read this Australian’s debut novel. I am so glad I heard about it.

It’s based on a true story of the last person to get sentenced to death in Iceland back in the early nineteenth century. Obviously a bleak story, and Hannah Kent paints a suitably bleak landscape reminiscent of Halldór Laxness’ Independent People. If you’ve ever struggled to read Laxness’ book doing let that comparison put you off because there the similarities end.

Kent paints a picture of rural Icelandic life brilliantly, and through Agnes’ conversations with the priest who visits her and the family she’s posted with you learn what actually happened in the ran up to the event that saw her convicted of murder.

Iceland: a country that creates writers

Iceland: a country that creates writers

According to this article on the BBC website, Iceland is a country where one in 10 people will publish a book. I can understand that. The winter months in Iceland are long, dark, and cold, and for years the winter months have been a traditional time for learning, and study. Writing, music, or other forms of the arts are an extension of that practice of studying.

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It is a tradition across the world that we have long summer holidays from school and the reason is universal, and goes back to  when families needed their children to help bring in the harvest. In   Iceland this reason has been doubly so. Children would be sent to stay in Reykjavik for the long winter to study, and then would return to their families on their farms in the summer to work. School and education and learning has always been very important. So landscape and nature forms a way of life, and stories are born, and the landscape inspires the stories too.

I’m not from Iceland but I have family their so it has been on my radar more than most for the thirty years of my life before I visited. And when I did visit, not just as a sightseer, but as someone working to improve the access to the country for others, and to help to conserve the natural environment.

I will always owe Iceland a debt of gratitude for my writing career, not because  it began my writing career because I have always written, but because it have me my first complete novel, with an ending that measures up to my original vision. Sacrifice of the Gods is probably what you might call my first novel, but that is more a collection of four novellas – with only two and a bit ever completed. Parts of that form another work – a reimagining of the Arthur and Merlin legends – called Stolen Lives. I still think of that story sometimes. Then there are the playscripts and screenplays… and Flyht. I loved – still love – Flyht. I used to discribe it as when Brit Pop met Recency England. It was born out of a dream, became a screenplay, and then a novel. It gave me my style, my confidence, and my way of writing… but it lacked a convincing ending. Endings are always difficult (I think, for any writer).

The End Of All Worlds was the novel that came after Flyht. Inspired by Iceland and with a real story (or stories to tell) it was not my first beginning, but it was my first ending. Since then, I have been working on what I will call my second novel, the curious tale of Mr Tumnal. Already I think that this is a better, stronger book, and I am excited to get it to out there to be read.

My mind is turning to my next novel too: a follow-up to The End Of All Worlds. Where that was a pure fantasy adventure, this next one will be even more of an ensemble piece: a proper modern saga. I am reading some of the old Sagas at the moment, and I am struck at how they are made up of numbered scenes. Hannah Kemp’s Burial Rites too (another foreign author inspired by her travels to Iceland for her debut) is divided up with scenes within chapters that begin with capitalised words and bring to mind the scale of the old sagas. I can see this is the way that my next book will go. There is an over-arching theme, every bit as threatening as in the last book, but at the same time all together different.

Iceland, has not yet run its course with me…

The voices inside my head are talking

The voices inside my head are talking

For many people, a statement like that might be a good enough signal to others to call the professionals in to sort me out. For me, though, it is normal. It’s as sure as sign as anything that another story is about to break out and demand to be written.  Curiously it is a year too the day that the story first seeded itself.  Emma and I were driving the south coast of Iceland on our return to Reykjavik, through the flat plains of moss-covers lava fields, a fine, continual drizzle on the Jeep windscreen, and a playlist of Múm and Sigur Rós on the crackling radio… the stories began to emerge…

10151188990390630Over the last week those choices have been making themselves heard again. I previously said that it is a follow-up rather than a sequel to, The End Of All Worlds, and that is still true.  Whilst I have a car of characters – some who you know and some who you don’t – and a series of smaller companion stories, and an idea of the offer -arching big idea, the main plot is still somewhat of a mystery. What I do know is that I am to find that plot in a myth, it legend…. or a s as fa. To this end I have started to read Penquin’s seminal 700+ page collection of the Idemand sagas. I have tried to read this, on and off, for over a decade, and this time I am determined to succeed. If only is I can decide with the knowledge of having read them that I must rely on my own imagination.

 

Iceland Full Circle Day 12: Hólmur to Reykjavik

Day 12: Saturday 25 August 2012

Start: 2357km
End: 2797km
Distance travelled: 440km (278 miles)

And so it comes to the final stretch of our road trip adventure. We breakfast again; cereal followed by pancakes and jam – today rhubarb and blueberry. Then we pack our bags, load up the jeep and head off back down the ring road, west for the last time.

First stop is the little grass-roofed church at Hóf with the really nobbly churchyard – that is after a brief, final look at Jókulsarlon. Then on to Klaustr where there are supposed to be more pseudo craters and a basalt pavement, but there is nothing much in evidence.

We head on on the long straight road across lava fields towards Vík. It’s weird but, aside from our trips and excursions for this entire journey we’ve had the country on the right side of the car and the sea on the left. We listen to Sígur-Ros and Múm on the road – it seems somewhat appropriate somehow for the landscape and the gloom. The seeds of an idea and the beginnings of a story for a – not sequel – but a follow-up to The End Of All Worlds begins to form itself in my mind. Where the first was all about the environment, this new story will be more about the people.

Vík, when we arrive is just the same as ever – grey, wet, and dreary. We fill up on petrol and lunch on hot dogs from the filling station. Then we continue on our way and finally leave the flat plains of the south coast for more rolling pastures. Between MýrdalsjÖkull and EyjafjallajÖkull we reach Skogafoss – the last of the impressive waterfalls. It’s one of those that you feel you want to walk round behind of to reach a secret cave. Mythology has it that there is a treasure hidden behind but that the last person to see it only got one of the latches from it’s trunk before it disappeared, never to be seen again. The latch now adorns the church at Skogar.

From EyjafjallajÖkull the road gets progressively busier and the landscape more developed. By the time we reach the town of Selfoss we are properly getting back to a
more urban way of life.

By half past three Emma navigates me back through the Reykjavik subhurbs and to Janet and Adi’s house and to journey’s end. A cup of tea and a catch up with Janet before Adi takes us down to Cheap Jeep to return the old girl. We feel a bit sad, but won’t miss having to fill her up with petrol. Registration OV 151, 10 or 12 years old, a 2.3 litre engine, she drank petrol for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She might have had characterful doorlocks and a dodgy handbrake, but 8 days she was our gas guzzler.

Day 13: Berrying and Family Gatherings…

Iceland Full Circle Day 11: Ingölfshoðhi and Skaftafell

Day 11: Friday 24 August 2012

Start: 2097km
End: 2357km
Distance travelled: 260km (161 miles)

Cereal for breakfast followed by pancakes with rhubarb jam and a tour of the animals on the farm. They have calves, and a pig and a load of different varieties of rabbits, and chickens and turkeys, goats, to go along with the sheep, and in the winter, reindeer. Magnus, it appears, spends quite a lot of time on the internet finding out about breeds and buying new animals, sourcing them from all over the country.

We set off in the direction of Jónkulsarlón again, arriving there with it looking different again in low cloud and fog. Past Jónkulsarlón and we arrive at the turning for Ingölfshoðhi – Einar was right about the roadworks when we spoke on the phone last night – and we time our journey on to Skaftafell. It’s only another quarter of an hour so we know when we need to leave again to get back for the tour.

At Skaftafell we have a look round the information centre which gives some interesting background into the geography and geology of the region, and we watch the video presentation of the 1996 Grimsvotn eruption and resulting jokulhaup. I find the choice of jaunty background music to what can only be described as a natural catastrophe somewhat inappropriate. We have a hot chocolate and a cake in the centre café to warm ourselves up before heading back on the road to Ingölfshoðhi.

From speaking to Einar last night I was expecting at least one other couple on today’s tour but there are several car loads and a handful of children. We pay our early fee and board the back of the hay wagon before the half hour tractor ride out across the salt marshes and beach to the narrow spit of land and headland that forms the spot where Ingolfs first arrived in Iceland before settling in Iceland.

We are told how on arriving in Iceland he through his totems of the Norse Gods into the sea declaring that he would make settlement where they were washed up. The following summer he moved to Reykjavik, and well that he might for a massive eruption later occurred near to Ingölfshoðhi and the resulting jokulhaup destroyed all the communities that had built up around it leaving the landscape that we have today.

One of the big draws of the tour at Ingölfshoðhi are the puffins but they are almost all gone for the winter now. Two days ago Einar found some still on the cliffs, yesterday they were on the sea down by the cliffs, and now they are further out. Tomorrow Einar expects them to be all gone. The Great Skuas are numerous though, as are the Fulmars and they are both impressive birds to watch. Our guide, Einar, seems vaguely familiar when he mentions leading a tour on the glacier earlier in the morning I wonder if 11 years ago he was one of the guides who took us ice climbing? Probably not, but he is a very good likeness for Finnur in my novel.

He does tell us through that this is all his land that he farm’s and I discover that he’s the son of the old farmer who too me on the tour 11 years ago. When I ask, Einar asks me, with gestures if he had a beard. I say yes and he goes on to say how his father spoke, very fluent, Icelandic. Yes! He’s right! His father spoke very little to no English beyond that needed for the tour.

Our tour ends down on the shore of the black sand and blue sea. There’s a rotting Pilot Whale, six metres long and providing food for the sea birds, and lots of whale bones, and driftwood – and a fair amount of rubbish we are somewhat disturbed about – how much just washes up from the sea. And then tractor ride back to the shore.

We head back to Skaftafell for lunch – a bit cold from the three hours on an exposed spit of land we seek out hot dogs at the local petrol station but surprisingly (and disappointingly) they have none. So we have a sandwich and a hot chocolate back at the visitor centre before our short walk to the glacier.

Eleven years ago when I first came here you were able to walk right up onto the snout of the glacier. Not it seems now. They are also some weird walkers around – like the grumpy looking lady who walks the path, head down with two hiking sticks even though the path is made for mobility scooters and returns so fast she can barely have looked up once. Very, very weird.

We get back to the visitor centre and Emma is wilting with tiredness, but we drive to the second car park and from there we can walk up to Svartifoss. I get possibly forar two excited from seeing steps, culverts, and stepping-stones and bridges that I helped to build all still there eleven years on. Well, I find it exciting.

Heading for home and its still raining between Skaftafell and Ingölfshoðhi but we drive through that and arrive back at Holmur in the perfect evening sunshine with views over three glaciers. We arrive for dinner at 8 o’clock which tonight is asparagus soup followed by pan-fried trout. Magnus’ wife tells us that we missed the first Northern Lights of the autumn over Holmur last night. Damn it for early nights. We spend some time with the last of our Freyja beer and a coffee and write our journals. Emma goes to bed early as she is tired and I stay up a bit later writing and going out into the cool country air to check on any Northern Lights but see nothing.

Day 12: Hólmur to Reykjavik…

Iceland Full Circle Day 10: Egilsstaðir to Hólmur

Day 10: Thursday 23 August 2012

Start: 1779
End: 2097
Distance travelled: 318km (197 miles)

We get up extra in order to get through the bathroom before the other guests as there is only one bathroom for three rooms. Our plan almost works, except for the German couple. She beats us to the bathroom before us but as soon as she finishes we are out and ready and get in before her husband. Why they both didn’t go in at the same time like we did, and also the French couple after us, we don’t know. After packing our things upwe are still early for breakfast and decide to find a table with a view and write some more of our journals. The German couple have, oddly, their own early breakfast and they yaffle, badly, from the table behind us.
Breakfast is good, but not a patch on Vilborg’s spread. The guesthouse in general is nice but not as homely and happy as Vilborg’s – she truly spoiled us.

Stefin helps us to our car with our bags and we set off driving south alongside the lake before the N1 breaks away to go further east. At some point the N1 becomes a gravel road – which we had been expecting, and indeed it is because of this that we decided earlier on that we would take a small short-cut and skip a sizeable fjord or two from the route. So we take the 989 which proves to be a lesser brown road – though still navigable in a small car (we are glad for our cheap jeep though!) – that takes us over an interesting, high, and steep pass. It is stunningly beautiful and possibly even more so in the lowering cloud.

A journey that we imagine would take us most of a day actually only takes us about three hours, and wewe get to a picnic spot not far from Jökulsarlón by 1 o’clock – moving on after lunch in time to get a 2 o’clock sailing in Klaki (thanks to Vilborg’s teaching we now know that Klaki is Icelandic for ice) a duck boat that takes us out onto Jökulsarlón.

It is such an incredible, awe-inspiring place and we are so, so lucky. Today is the first day in 10 days that the fog and the rain has lifted. We’ve definitely chosen to go round Iceland in the right direction – taking the weather with us. There are Grey Seals swimming in the lake, and whilst we’re out on our boat trip several huge bits of ice break off and turn over in the lake with a tremendous crashing noise. Our guide drags a lump of 1000 year old ice out of the lake and breaks it into pieces for us to taste. It’s so, so pure – the best ice/water you will ever taste. Apparently it melts slower than normal ice and so is good for whisky if you like having it on the rocks.

After our boat/car drives us back out onto the land we go round the back of the centre buildings to meet Tapi, a Great Skua who has become almost semi-tame through frequenting Jökulsarlón. We warm ourselves up with a hot chocolate before returning to to the lake shore to watch seals. A piece of ice breaks free and begins to drift down the river towards the sea. We decide to walk with it down onto the beach. Then more seals, we look the other way – the iceberg – we look back – and back to the seals. The seals win.

Down on the beach and its weird to see icebergs on the beach – weirder to see icebergs on black sand. There are loads more Grey Seals in the sea. We probably spend another hour on the beach watching icebergs and seals before heading back on the N1, east again to our new guesthouse at Hólmur y Mýrum.

Our host Magnus shows us to the room, we’re staying in a room in the family’s newer house (the old farm house is entirely given over to guests). He also introduces us to the Persian cat with attitude, Mona Lisa. The farm has a view of three glaciers and a petting zoo of animals that we can see have an out of hours tour of tomorrow morning.

This guesthouse also does evening meals and tonight is a traditional meat soup. Perfect. At 7 o’clock we arrive at the dining room in one half of a converted barn (the other half still has animals in it) and dinner is served in a big earthenware bowl which gets refilled. I end up eating three servings of it it’s so good.

After dinner we sit for longer at our table writing our journals and working out how to organise tomorrow. Originally we were going to see puffins and skuas at Ingólfshoðhi but forom a poster at Jökulsarón we discovered that tours finish for the summer on 18 August. From looking them up on the internet and telephoning the guide, Einar, we discovered that there is still a tour tomorrow at 12 o’clock. So we will go to Skaftafell first, maybe walk to the glacier, then go to Ingólfshoðhi and return to Skaftafell for lunch and Svartifoss. Or at least that’s the plan…

Day 11: Ingólfshoðhi and Skaftafell…

Iceland Full Circle Day 9: Akureyri to Egilsstaðir

Day 9: Wednesday 22 August 2012

Start: 1427km
End: 1779km
Distance travelled: 352km (218 miles)

Our last breakfast with Vilborg and we are both very sad about it. She is a lovely person and a wonderful host. In doing a last check round our room I find the sheet of A4 that tells us a bit of history about her and the farm. She was born in a farm in the south of Iceland before studying to be a nurse before marrying the farmer at Ytra-Laugaland. After his death in 2005 her son took on the running of the farm and she extended the original farm house to open it as a guesthouse for travellers which has always been her dream.

Over breakfast, Vilborg’s “friend” talks to us about how he learnt all his English since staying at Vilborg’s with all the travellers who come. He also shows us a traditional Icelandic wooden eating container with a lid and the carved horn spoon from 1926 – just one year earlier than Ytra-Laugaland was originally built.

And so, with some sadness at leaving Vilborg’s homely house and excellent breakfasts we set off on the next leg of our journey. We set off past the decorated postboxes for the last time and back onto the N2, the high pass again to Mývatn. Past the Laxa river, stopping for half an hour to explore the pseudo-craters of Skútustidir, look for golden-eyes fruitlessly, see more widgeon and miscellaneous brown ducks and try and avoid breathing in the swarms of midges that made a beeline for our carbon-dioxide.

One more stop at Reykjalið for petrol and then onwards again past Bjarnarflag and Namafjall to the open road to Dettifoss. Last time I was here the only way to Dettifoss on the west side worth speaking of was the 4×4 only track from Vesturdalur in the north. Now there is a new, paved road from the N1 in the south. I find myself worrying about this – if there is a brand new road serving Dettifoss that is every bit as good as the N2 at its best what will the car park be like. It used to be a circle of cleared gravel borded by large rocks cleared from the centre and the only convenience a solitary compost toilet. I pray that there is no staffed information point and café…

There is no information point beyond a board and no café. The car park though is humungous with separate coarch park, painted bays, curb stones, and paving. The original car park is still visible around whare there sits a modern toilet (still of the composting variety).

It’s all a balance I suppose. Yes Dettifoss is now more accessible than it has ever been but I cannot be cross about that as the early work that I helped with a decade ago was to improve access.

We walk the path to Dettifoss and it is as it ever was. I remember working this same and it all comes back to me. I remember now that Chas had someone bring a little digger to clear some of the bigger rocks but that on day one it broke and so we had to do some rudimentary levelling in the interim. There’s a picture of me with Jennifer Tait, each with a rock bar easing a massive bolder into a new position. Sometime in the intervening 10 years they have fixed (or got a better) digger and shifted the stones so that that now it is a fully accessible gravel path that is the ‘regulation’ width of one rake handle. We pass a small group of volunteers working on some new/improvements to some steps. I recognise their boulder carrier as the exact same one I used 10 years ago if changed by 10 years of wear and tear.
Dettifoss when we reach it is as raw powerful as it always was. The noise from it as it thudners to, and over the falls, is deafening and the water a churning, seething mass of water straight off the Vatnajokull ice cap with all the stones and soil churned up with it. Dettifoss is not the prettiest. It’s not even the biggest. But it is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It’s breathtaking.

Leaving Dettifoss, we rejoin the N1 and turn left to the East and new territory for me. For the next 100km or more the road is almost like a desert, a canvass of greys and browns and no green at all; no farms; no villages, just miles upon miles of tundra-like desert. We cross the Jokulsa-y-fylum river via a huge single-carriageway bridge that creaks and wobbles when a lorry crosses it and the river, wide and fast races on beneath.

Then there is a range of mountains of the jettest black I have ever seen. Black mountains amongst the low cloud. It seems somehow appropriate that today we get our first real dose of rain.

Eventually the road does descend into the lower slopes of east, but on wild, unkempt greenness of rough fields and pine forests in contrast to the lush, fresh meadows of the west. I stop for petrol at one of the lonliest petrol stations I have ever seen. And then we journey on, driving about 3km of roadworks on the N1. Unlike back home where they would close a lane, here they just do the whole road in one go and you drive on whatever surface (or not) that they have got to at the time.

Descending further down through the valleys the communities and farms become more numerous and the fields lusher, and then we cross the bridge into Egilstadir with its curious modern church up on the hill. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to the major town in this region apart from the two supermarkets (one of course, a Bónus) and the ubiquitous purveyor of hot dogs and fast food 0 the local petrol station – and not much else in the way of eating. Heading out of town to find oru guesthouse we pass Gistiheimild Egilsstaðir and it does look very nice. With its speciality of locally raised beef we decide that even if it is slightly on the pricey side we should definitely eat there.

Our own guesthouse – the still unpronounceable Utnydingsstaðir is set back a couple of kilometres down a gravel track – a farm specialising in horses and horseriding. It’s a very nice, if a simpler affair to Vilborg’s. The family are also in a separate farmhouse although we are in the original farmhouse with other guiests (if you don’t count the old turf-roofed farm that used to stand here).

I write some of my journal whilst Emma has a sleep and then we freshen up before heading out to dinner. Gistiheimild Egilsstaðir is altogether a grander affair – almost a villa beside the lake it is like a proper restaurant inside and we feel a bit under-dressed for the place. A book about the restaurant, the guesthouse, their history, and their values is on each table, and the menus are given to us in beautiful hand made sketchbooks.

We try to be good and to only look at things on the cheaper end of the menu, but our eyes keep flitting back to the steaks from beef raised on the Egilsstaðir farm next door. We decide that having had some reasonably inexpensive meals, just this once we go for it. For both of us we have the soup of the day – parsley root soup (parsnip?) – followed by T-bone steak. It’s delicious and very, very special.

Following our meal we take a stroll down to the lake which is quietly serene, say hello to some Icelandic horses, including a young foal who is still getting used to his legs, and then we head off for home to writes some more our journals. Emma entertains me with her dying fly impression in honour of all the rooms we have stayed in with an annoying (and dying) fly…

Day 10: Egilsstaðir to Hólmur…

Iceland Full Circle Day 8: Birds, Bubbling Mud, and Ash Craters

Day 8: Tuesday 21 August 2012

Start: 1176km
End: 1427km
Distance travelled: 251km (156 miles)

Another good breakfast from Vilborg to begin our second day in the north, before we head out for the high pass over the mountains, but this time past the turning for Husavik and on to Mývatn, arriving at its southwest corner, crossing the Laxa river to ‘midge lake’.

It’s an ethereal place with its irregular shape and little islands formed by the steam vents through an ancient lava lake that once formed under a massive glacier. More recent remnants of volcanic activity (still a very long time ago) can be seen in the rock formations of Dimmuborgir and the neighbouring ash crater of Hverafell which we climb and circumnavigate getting great views over the whole lake, Rekjaliđ and the dangerous peak of Krafla beyond (last eruption 1987 and with a magma chamber refilled).

We drive round towards the power station at Bjarnarflag where I discover with pleasure that the Blue Lagoon-styled nature baths are across the road from, and not actually on the site of, the lake where I swum 10 years ago. I don’t know if it is now completely forbidden but in all other respects the site is exactly as it was when we parked up our bus beside of the lake, and changed, men to one side and girls to the other. A bit further up the N1 and we stop at a viewing/picnic place with a fine sulphurous smell lingering and a view of steaming vents in the ground. Here we have our lunch.

After lunch we continue up and over the ridge to the bubbling, boiling sulphurous hot pools of Námafjall. If Hverafjall was like walking on the moon then exploring Námafjall is like taking a stroll across the surface of Mars. Steam vents from the ground, fizzes and pops at every turn, and great, gaping chasms of fractured ground that splurge and splutter mud continuingly. The place stinks – not unpleasantly – but unforgettably. The ground and the hillside is every shade of colour: primarily a rusty orange, the palette sweeps from smudges of dark green or red ochre, to bright, lime greens, virulent oranges, yellows, to purple and white. And still plants and flowers cling to life in places.

We head back over the ridge to the relative calm of Mývatn and after a quick stop at the information centre cum petrol station cum supermarket at Reykjalid. Across the other side of the lake we could see a storm brewing out over the mountains.

At the information centre we find out more about the Fuglasafn Bird Museum and decide to head over there in the hope that it will be the starting point for some Mývatn bird watching. In a beautiful location out in the middle of the lake, the building is of a circular stone construction with a grass roof. A pond that starts outside goes through the café/entrance area and into the ‘dead bird museum’ in the centre. At first, unsure of the dead museum aspect of it is actually really good for identifying what you might have seen and possibly more importantly what you might not have…

During our short time there sitting in the sun we see whooper swans, slavonian grebes, widgeons, and tufted ducks, but sadly no golden eyes.

On our way home we break our journey at Godafoss where a religious leaded is reputed to have renounced the Norse gods in favour of Christianality by throwing his statues into the waterfalls. It’s impressive but small in comparison to the falls that we shall see tomorrow…

By the time we reach the high pass this side of Akureyri we are in thick rain and we discover that our cheap jeep comes with the noisiest of windscreen wipers – so much so that it is worth letting the rain build up more than you would do normally in order to save on the noise. We feel lucky that one week into our two week holiday and we have not had any rain.

At about 6 o’clock we drive straight into Akureyri for dinner, parking at our usual spot by the Culture House and then walking almost out of town again to find our chosen restaurant under constant threat of rain and the heavens opening. Which they do, but thankfully not until we are safely inside the austere-on-the-outside-but-nice-on-the-inside Greifinn restaurant. We both opt for pizzas, myself for a saltfiske pizza of locally caught cod topping, and a light Viking to go on the side.
Back to Vilborg’s for one last time we have a long leisurely evening to just sit and be, and write our postcards.

Day 9: Akureyri to Egilsstađir…

Iceland Full Circle Day 7: Whale watching from Husavik and the Great canyon of Ásbyrgi

Day 7: Monday 20 August 2012

Start: 401km
End: 845km
Distance travelled: 444km (275 miles)

Breakfast at 8 o’clock. We have one other couple, French, who are staying at Vilborg’s. The table is laid with every care and attention and the food is epic in a simple, understated way. Cereal with yoghurt and milk – followed by homemade rye bread with cheese and cold meats, homemade cakes and toast and jam with fresh orange juice and coffee.

About 8:45 we are setting off with a deadline to get to Husavik in time for our 10 o’clock boat. Deadline or not we stop a viewing spot by the side of the road opposite Akureyri. The water is like a mirror and the sky is a perfect blue and the view and the view is picture postcard perfect.

And then we are off once more, climbing a high and steep path over the mountains and down to the flood plain of a glacial river to navigate down and around and straight into Husavik with just minutes to spare. We’ve booked our tour but have to pay still. When I ask if we are in time the 10 o’clock sailing the girl looks over her shoulder at the boat preparing to set sail. She says with a smile, ‘Can you run?’ So we do. Not that I thik we need to as they have already radioed through our presence and a bus load turns up after us.

The North Sailing boats are traditional old oak boats and lovely. They also have 98% reliability at finding whales. When we set out across the bay for the first 40 minutes of the three hour tour we don’t see much besides the occasional Fulmer and I worry that we are not going to see anything…

And then we have our first sighting. A humpback whale, first blowhole, a dorsal fee and then its fluke before a deep dive. I can’t believe what I have just seen, and I also feel guilt at having seen it in case that is our only whale and Emma hasn’t seen it.

I need not have worried, as by the end of our tour we have seen a total of six different humpback whales, some more than once, and a couple of pairs doing synchronised swimming between our boat and a sailing schooner, and fluking right up close. Amazing! Then years ago all I got to see a few lethargic minkies.. As we return to Husavik, the crew serve us steaming mugs of hot chocolate and warm cinnamon buns.

Upon arriving back at Husavik we decide to eat out at lunchtime and snack ‘in’ on flatbread and cheese later. Our restaurant of choice is Salka, an old, traditionally timber built, green-painted building in the heart of town. Ten years ago I ate puffin in this building. Today we both opt for pan-fried arctic char – delicious! And very relaxing – a perfect end to a perfect day – except that it is not the end. Sadly we don’t have time to add the Icelandic Phallogical Museum to the itinerary with its ‘bizarre collection penises’ including ‘silver castings of each member of the Icelandic hand ball team’ as we have places to go. The place in question being Ásbyrgi with its horsehoe canyon, reputed in legend to have been formed when Ódinn’s eight-legged horse clipped the northern edge of Iceland as it jumped over. Actually formed by a massive glacial flood that eroded the Jókulsa-y-fylum river that now runs nearby seem positively small and insignificant by comparison.

Now the canyon is forested in birch trees and abundant with wild blueberries that we pick and eat. It is tranquil and peaceful with its clear pool at the far end, and its viewing platform from which you can survey the whole canyon. There is also the concrete ‘slab’ where tradionally the locals would gather for dances and feasting and the filed where rock concerts are sometimes staged.

Sadly we don’t have time to venture further south to Vesturdalur and its castle-like rock formations, and I am very sad about that as it is one of my favourite places.

Arriving back at Ytra-Laugaland for our second night we discover that we are the only guests and Vilborg shows us to our new room.It’s upstairs in the old farmhouse with a view down the valley and even nicer than the last room.

Day 8: Birds, Bubbling Mud and Ash Craters…

Iceland Full Circle Day 6: Brautaholt to Akureyri

Day 6: Sunday 19 August 2012

Start: 401km
End: 845km
Distance travelled: 444km (275 miles)

The wind definitely whistles through Brautaholt, and blustery as it is outside it is in nowhere near as blustery as it sounds. The day is bright and sunny, and it’s a shame we have to leave so soon, but we must and pack our bags once more, and depart.

The neighbours who we met last night who’s key it was in the side door and who share use of the hot tub have locked one door and I discover how to lock the front door to the shop. The downside being that once we leave there is no way to get back in. Better that I figure than to leave it unlocked…

Our road trip continues by, bizarrely enough taking the road south by way of a high pass, half way back to Borganess to get back onto the N1 north. The road is good and we arrive in Viđimyri for lunch and to visit one of only three tiny grass-roofed churches left in Iceland. Timbered inside, and around, the pulpit finally decorated it is beautiful and cosy as well it might for all the turf exterior. The gable walls are like dry leather, and make a solid wall to the building.

We have a picnic lunch outside the church whilst a friendly, heavily pregnant cat makes himself known to us, and then we continue on our way taking a slight detour – to Hólar.

‘Welcome home to Hólar’ is the traditional greeting to everyone when they arrive here, because no matter who you are or where you ar from or going to, Hólar is always home. There’s possibly the smallest cathedral in the world here and it was here that Christianity came to Iceland. It’s also home to one of the first printing presses in Iceland, and because of this one of the first copies of the Bible to be printed in Icelandic. There are also tales of beheading Bishops as well. Now it is part of the University and an agricultureal school and very, very peaceful – unbelievably peaceful.

Our journey continues – for another couple of hours back to the N1 and along – east – to Akureyri. Akureyri is the second city in Iceland but is little more than a small town by most standards. It even has its own international airport even if the runway is a reclaimed strip of land behind the causeway in the middle of fjord.

Our guesthouse, Ytra-Laugaland, is about 10 km south of Akureyri. There is something going on in the local community – all the postboxes at the ends of the drives are decorated, sometimes elaborately, sometimes incredibly inventively, with animals, birds, and people. And so we arrive at our destination – just like it looks in the brochure, a little red-roofed farm overlooking the river. Viborg, our host is an austere looking older lady who welcomes us in warmly, apologetic from the outset that the room we will be in tonight is not the same room we will be in for the following two nights. It doesn’t matter. The rooms are very comfortable. Vilborg is also quick to provide to use post-it note and the password for the wifi network – bonus as it means we can save £3 on Vodafone charges today.

We freshen up and change and head back out almost straight away to find somewhere to eat in Akureyri. Since my last, brief visit to Akureyri ten years ago (when Chas and Sarah left the rest of us in a gravel car park at the back of some industrial units whilst they did a Bónus shop) they’ve tidied up the water front and built The Hof – the Akureyri Culture House. Basalt and concrete it is a perfect circle and reminds me a little of the Harpa in Reykjavik.

We park for free and wander up into the main street. It doesn’t take long because Akureyri is a very small place. There are life-size trolls in the main street and lots of lovely shops and cafes. We make for Bautinn at the top end of the main street in one of the oldest timber buildings in town.

We both go for the soup of the day, and then Emma has a burger and chips, and I, hashed local fish and rye bread – very yum but oh so much cheese!
After dinner we wander in the setting sun (of 8.30-9 o’clock), admiring the dresses hanging across the street outside the opera house and the little church with the stained glass saved from the now bombed Coventry Cathedral.

Down by the main street and we find little souvenirs and gifts for people and another boat sculpture and head back to our guesthouse for a well-earned rest.

Day 7: Whale watching from Husavik and the Great canyon of Ásbyrgi…

Iceland Full Circle Day 5: Reykjavik to Brautaholt

Saturday 18 August 2012

Start: 0km
End: 401km
Distance travelled: 401 km (240 miles)

Having collected the jeep last night we were free to take a more leisurely approach to breakfast and to getting all packed up and ready to leave. At 10 o’clock I reversed not just my first 4×4 but my first automatic vehicle out of Funafold 13 and onto Janet’s quiet side street. First time too, driving on the right, I made it the short distance around the block to Oli’s filling station, and we were off.

From a hazy, misty start to the day we soon hit thick fog through the Reykjavik suburbs and this caused us to think we had missed the road to the Akranes tunnel – then the sun came out as we entered the tunnel – carved out from the actual rock deep beneath the fjord rather than being built from concrete. Out of the tunnel and the road to Borganess was of thick, thick fog, that cleared in time for the bridge and the causeway across Borgafjördur.

Quick stop for provisions a the local Bónus and we were back on the rod, leaving the main N1 until tomorrow and taking the road to Snaefellsnes. We carried on watching the white-capped mountain that is Snaefellsjokull loom closer.

At lunch time we arrived at the tiny black-painted wooden church at Budir. Nestled in the sand dunes above a sandy beach with rock pools in the black lava outcrops, surrounded by lush meadow grass, bathed in bright sunshine and blue sky and watched over by a glacier, it is an utterly breath-taking and beautiful spot to have lunch. Lunch is Icelandic flatbreads with cheese and salami followed by a mjolkurkek and an apple. After lunch we head down to the beach for a paddle and a stroll before continuing on around the peninsula.

Three more stops follow: at Pulabarg, where there is the dark, rocky remains of a troll amongst a forelorn lava field and teeming with Kittiwakes. Then to Malarrif where we are told there is a very pretty beach of round black stones, the remains of a wreck, and a lighthouse. We don’t find the wreck but for the rest they aren’t wrong. We’ve overshot our turning (deliberately) and so lastly we visit the exceptionally small and pretty Amarstapi – a little fishing village set down amongst the familiar hexagonal baslt rocks, that form, in there arrangement, a natural harbour. Breaking for a cold drink and a toilet stop we are on our way, Emma driving for the road up and over Snaefellsjokull. From the turning it is a gravel track, and from the start it is perilously steep and rutted. Until now having the jeep has been fun but now it is essential, although over the brow of a ridge we do come across parked cars, including a Toyota Yaris. It is actually the Yaris that follows us up the path on a road that we don’t think is made for it.

The road takes us right beneath the main glacier but above some of the snow and the views both north and south are spectacular. As nervewracking as it is spectacular, the road down is, in places, ‘interesting’.

Back on the main road we wind our way over hill and round fjord to Stykkisholmur for dinner – arriving about 6pm. It’s Danish Day today on Snaefellsness – the day wen all its people celebrate their Danish ancestry and the menu at Fimm Fiskur (Five Fishes) is a special Danish one. Great food and great service: we both have the mushroom soup and I had the fish of the day for mains – we’re still not entirely sure what Torsk is but it was very nice.

After our early dinner we had a short stroll round a very windy harbour, enjoying the otherwise quietness and checking out the curious knitted hand pump and knitted bin – to go alongside the knitted trees of Reykjavik.

Leaving Stykkisholmer we pass a petrol station on the edge of town – for a moment we do deliberate whether or not to fill up but the gauge looks okay and so we go on, keen to get to Brautaholt. It’s not long on the surprisingly gravel road along the norther shore fo Snaefelsness that we decide we have made a mistake. The gravel road is long and the petrol gauge drops alarmingly and the journey is not as enjoyable as it might have been.

Still daylight, but it is getting late, and we are incredibly relieved to finally meet the metalled road surface. We find Brautaholt easily too – the middle of three houses on the side of the valley. We drive past it though to Budadalur, hoping beyond hope for a petrol station. There is one. It’s closed of course but the pump is an automat self-service one and we guess at the amount of money we want to put in.

With a full tank once more we speed back up the road and arrive at Brautaholt, our destination for the night. However, a different kind of panic is to set in. None of the four keys that Adi has given us fit the front door – indeed only one of the keys actually slides into the lock. I remember Adi saying something about the back door never being locked anyway, so we go round into the back garden with the view down over meadow grass to the shore of the fjord. I try and rember if tis a grave or just a memorial to Adi’s parents in the back garden – I can’t.

The back door is firmly locked. Starting to fear the worst now Emma goes to look at the side and I go back round the front – I think I had seen another door to the old shop. The door is unlocked – I enter in and find Emma coming towards me. The side door was unlocked with the key hanging out of it.
Forgetting our panic of earlier Emma is drawn immediately to the old shop which is just the same as it was eight years ago when I first saw it, and was for Emma strangely, impossibly familiar from having read the descriptions of it in my book.

We fetch in our things and have a proper look around – the miscellany of objects from down the generations , the 1950s kitchen and the old wind-up telephone in the hall, to the family photographs. Then to further instructions: we find the light switch in the kitchen to turn on the electrics in the kitchen okay but the hot water tap in the shower room…? There are seven identical taps in the shower room all at different positions and with signs tied next to them. We have to phone Janet for some translation and eventually we figure it out.

The house is old, creaky, and a little bit creepy but we settle in happily with some toast and tea. Ideally we would snuggle into the lounge and write our journals and play scrabble but it has been long and (mostly – if you discount the 70km of driving near the bottom of your tank on a gravel road) enjoyable day and we are shattered.

Day 6: From Brautaholt to Akureyri…

Iceland Full Circle Day 4: Þingvellir, Geysir and Gulfoss

Day 4: Friday 17 August 2012

Another nice, leisurely breakfast this morning after another good night’s sleep, if a disturbed once at around 4 o’clock by Emma climbing up from under the back of the bed, across the pillow and trying to get out the window. It is important to remember that Emma, in this instance, is a cat – if named after t’other Emma.

Drífa and Kjartan arrived shortly after breakfast for our day out doing the Golden Circle – a trip that Reykjavik Excursions charge £100 each for the tour that has no admission charges and only involves a few hours of driving. This way we get to see some famous sights but hopefully in the company of less tourists, and we get to spend some time with the family.

The journey starts with a pitstop at a bakery at Mossfellsbaer – I say bakery but it was more a deli-come-chocolatier at an out-of-town retail park. And then we head off away from the N1 inland to Þingvellir.

I have been to Þingvellir just once before at the end of my 2002 holiday in the north. Then, the visitor centre was brand new, but the day was heavy rain and thick, low cloud. The place was completely different. In fact it took me ages to realise that where we were today in the bright, clear sunshine in the rising heat, was the same place.

Þingvellir, seat of Iceland’s first government is on a large fissure in the ground – a massive cliff that runs through the ground. To the east you are standing on the Eurasian plate and to the west you are standing on the American plate – and this is the only place where the great mid-Atlantic ridge is visible above sea level. It’s weird to think that just a few hundred metres in either direction and where we are standing would be the bottom of the ocean.

From Þingvellir we head on to Pengingagjá or the Chasm of Coins – deep pool in a fissure of rock where we toss coins in to make a wish. Some one it seems has made a wish on an old credit card – a new maybe to term ‘loose change’.

As we drive onwards and up to Geysir we can see the great icecap of Landjokull beyond the mountains. The great Geysir – father to all geysirs in the world has been long dormant but his smaller brother Strokkur is reliably active and does its thing every five minutes or so and see it spurt several times in the time that we are there. Watching water gurgle and splutter before activity. The water, always at least 80–100°C of naturally hot water starts off almost serenely quiet and eerily blue before slowly rising and falling, with ever increasing difference in water level, faster and faster, until whoosh it gushes out in one huge fountain leaving a gaping chasm beneath, back into which the spilt water is sucked.

We have our lunch, bought earlier at a picnic table within sight of Geysir. And after lunch we move on to Gulfoss – Europe’s largest waterfall. It’s not far but I do realise that in my novel I have relocated it closer to Reykjavik – so much so that Ben, a state of shock and upset is able to drive out of Reykjavik to face his fears at Gulfoss. Again in contrast to the low cloud and persistent rain of ten years ago, today it is warm and sunny and a rainbow – could it be the Bifrost – lingers long over the waterfall which is stunningly beautiful.

On the drive back to Reykjavik, Kjartan and Drífa take us by way of the hillside location on the edge of a lake where last June they got married. It is indeed a fantastic and beautiful spot to get married.

Just between Snorrabraut, the indoor swimming pool and the back of Hallsgrimkirkur we find the new location of Cheap Jeep but unfortunately the man there, like before on the phone, is worrying laid back about things. There’s no jeep for us as our vehicle has been dropped off at Keflavik and it won’t be ready for an hour maybe. He takes our phone number though and says he will call when it is ready for collection. We leave again, without jeep wondering if he will or not and what our vehicle will look like when it does…

…it’s not long after we’ve finished dinner and Emma and I settle down with Janet in the lounge to read and write our journals and talk that the man phones us in characteristically laid back fashion to say it will be ready in 20 minutes. Drifa comes back to the house and takes us back down into Reykjavik to collect our jeep. A Blue Daewoo which is fully functioning, automatic, and cheap by merit only by being old and having a slightly peculiar door handle to the back door.

As it begins now to get dark I catch up with writing these pages and think about repacking my rucksack for the round Iceland road trip ahead of us. For bedtime reading tonight, further to something that Kjartan said, I will make a start on Halldór Laxness’ Independent People.

Day 5: Reykjavik to Brautaholt…

Iceland Full Circle Day 2: Cousins and Bathing in the Blue Lagoon

Day 4: Thursday 16 August

Plans change. Given second thoughts Janet had decided her Peugeot 206 might be a little small for four people and two dogs so we belayed the trip to the golden circle. Instead, after a leisurely breakfast Janet took us down to see Signý and Noí in their new flat. Noí is very cute, and very strong – he would stand on our laps and really grip our fingers.

Signý served us a wickedly delicious Hairy Bikers chocolate cake and showed us around their new flat – so bright and airy. The kitchen is very similar to ours with the same oiled oak worktops and I recognised immediately one of Grandpa’s old oak coffee tables that he made, and that Signý is attached to, possibly, more than anything else. The other thing I notice about Signý’s and Níls’ flat is that, like all the houses in Iceland, even the smaller places – they still have generous utility/wet rooms and lots of storage. I guess they need them with the sometimes harsher conditions in the winter but its still 100% more storage than it is usual to find in UK houses where instead there is always precious little storage even for the vacuum cleaner or the ironing board.

After our visit to see Signý, Janet dropped us at the BSí bus terminal so that we could catch the tour out to the Blue Lagoon. Getting there was swift enough along the long, straight, main road that lead us almost back to Keflavik airport to the Spa built next to and using the waste water from a power station. I have a family connection to the Blue Lagoon in that it was my uncle’s father who managed the power station when they realised that the waste water and the silica mud that it created had restorative properties. There is now a sister spa up in the north near Mývatn which I remember bathing in ten years ago almost to the day when it was like this was in the beginning – a lake on the edge of the road where we parked the van and changed, girls to one side, boys to the other before wandering down and in.

Not now with the Blue Lagoon with a £25 or 5000 IKR entrance fee. It’s worth it though and we spent a good hour and a half lounging in the warm, slightly salty, sulphurous waters – even if the wristband-operated lockers do provide a bit of a challenge. The journey takes us out of Reykjavik under clear skies and we can see the rolling, tumbling expanse of an old lava field with old and new building perched in amongst it all. Out across the water we can clearly see Snaefellsness Peninsular and the glacier at its tip.

I’ve been to the Blue Lagoon once before – I guess twice in 8 years isn’t too bad for a frequency rate. There is a comfortableness in that, although there has been more development like the new ‘Lava Restaurant’ and a neighbouring clinic where you can stay. It is otherwise exactly the same as it always was. I’m sure the locker system has changed though as I don’t remember the system of electronic bracelets to set and lock the catches.

We lounge about in the warm, milky-blue waters, plaster the white silica mud onto our upper bodies and faces, try the steam bath in the lava cave, and then a waterfall massage – pummelled in the shoulders by heavy cold water.

Our return bus journey is almost twice as long as it ought to have been as the driver takes us to virtually any hotel in Reykjavik dropping off people after people until there are only four people, including us, left and we are a full half hour later for Drífa who has been waiting in the car for us with little Melkorka – only two years and very smiley.

Drífa and Melkorka stay for dinner – yummy smoked salmon filled fajitas and salad. Our earlier plans to do the golden circle are revived for tomorrow – Drífa and Kjartan would like to take us.

After dinner we play with Kelkorka and her toys and I give her her present – which she loves instantly. Its Mr Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham. I read it to her, adding the odd translation for the animals and she loves the illustrations. Kjartan has been wanting a copy of my book and so I give them a slightly battered copy of my own which I inscribe for them and draw their attention to the illustration on page 200. I tell them that they can have this battered copy so long as they download a Kindle version…

When Drífa leaves we decide that the throaty, sports car sound of Drífa’s exhaust as not as loud as she feared. She just needs a ‘Robin’ to bolt the ends back together.

Day 4: Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss…

Iceland Full Circle Day 2: Reacquainting Oneself With Reykjavik

Day 2: Wednesday 15 August

We were not up late, considering the hour that we went to bed, but we had a leisurely breakfast with our cereal laden with fresh fruit and various mjölks. Washing this morning I find it hard to imagine how I can I have forgotten the smell of the water here – sulphury but somehow nice.

Adi gave us some advice over routes and roads for our round Iceland adventure and suggested some places to stop to eat before arriving at Brautaholt on Saturday evening. He also suggested that we should try and get our jeep from Friday night in order to save time and make an early start on Saturday morning. As he was kindly going to run us into town he offered to also help out with the negotiations.

We’re glad he did, as a) we discovered that Cheep Jeep have moved to new premises which are not immediately obvious to find. Find them we do though and Adi sorts the situation. Apparently when we booked the extra time to allow all day on both Saturdays we actually had a full day so we are able to collect the jeep after 6pm on Friday.

After being dropped in downtown 101 Reykjavik we wandered down by the harbour, said hello to the only stream train in Iceland on a short length of track you will find and made our way to Bæjarins Beztu for one of the best hot dogs you will get in town.

Then, for something new for both of us. Since my last visit they have opened a new concert hall venue on the harbour – Harpa – a building or possibly two buildings contained within one glass box that itself is made to resemble the colours and reflections of obsidian and the shapes of basalt columns. It’s beautiful and affords the opportunity to take make striking and confusingly mind-bending photographs. I am reminded again how both Emma and I can point our cameras at precisely the same thing and both end up with equally good but dramatically different pictures.

From Harpa we walked on round the harbour to the steel sculpture of the Viking longship, if in a fine Scotch mist of rain. For the first time since I wrote it – and maybe ever – I placed my cheek against the cold metal so that it stings in the same way that it does when Ben does this in my novel. It’s precisely the asme. Odd, as I realise now that I have never done it until now.

Next to the Lutheran Cathedral of Hallgrímskirkja which sits above the city and overlooked everything from its simple, elegant concrete wings that flank it – another nod to the volcanic basalt columns of the country.

It’s a 600 IKR ride in the lift up the 8 floors, and then one short flight of stairs to the bell tower from where you get one of the best views across the multi-coloured painted roofs of Reykjavik.

A short walk down the bustling, crafty street to Laugavegur and I bring Emma to my favourite coffee shop/bar in Reykjavik. At first that I worry that its changed hands but no, they just now use the shorter, more easily pronounceable Koffinn instead of Kofi Frænda Tomasar – or Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the translation is a new one on me but it seems strangely fitting). I treat Emma to a hot chocolate floating with Ice Cream – delicious.

And then to home. For dinner we have chicken in a pesto and feta cheese sauce – delicious! Followed up by skyr for desert. I would describe skyr for desert as yoghurt or fromage frais with nobs on but is very, very low in fat – high in protein, utterly delicious and nicely filling. Adi leaves for his fishing trip up on Snaefellsness after dinner and we set about making plan for tomorrow – a family outing with Drifa and Janet and the dogs to Þingvellir, Gulfoss, and Geysir – the golden circle.

Day 3: Cousins and bathing in the Blue Lagoon…

Iceland Full Circle Day 1: Flying into the sunset

Day 1: Tuesday 24 August

It may be my fourth visit to Iceland but I have never before arrived in the hours of darkness. To keep to our budget we couldn’t afford the normal mid-morning flight that I’ve always had, so we set off for our adventures mid-afternoon to leave our car at Emma’s parents before being ferried to Heathrow in the Jefferys taxi.

We didn’t see any post-Olympics athletes catching flights but there loads of Games Makers in evidence outside. Our bags caused a certain amount of amusement to the cheerful man on the check-in desk as both our bags back-flipped and somersaulted over the conveyor belt.

A dinner of pizza air-side of security and we board our plane just after 9pm for our journey north and having walked seemingly miles to get to our get to our gate. Whilst cruising north over Britain we watched a short ‘how to guide’ on driving in Iceland which was just a little bit scary. Eeek!

On the inflight entertainment I found a couple of episodes of the comedy series Dagvatn (Day Shift) – a follow up to the hit Night Shift which we had encountered during a BBC4 Iceland season – and painfully funny!

As we journeyed further north and it got closer towards midnight it felt weird that it got lighter and lighter outside the plane.

Arriving at the airport we moved swiftly through the sleek lines of angled stone walls and polished wood floors – our bags arrived quickly and we headed out to find our bus. I had a slight confusion over the Flybus ticket, as when we got to the bus I discovered that they had sold me a Flybus Plus ticket which I didn’t need and that I should go back for a refund. So I ran back to the terminal and back again to the bus much to Emma’s hilarity.

The journey into Reykjavik after that was very smooth and Aði was waiting to collect us at some ungodly hour. We were welcomed into the house by Auntie Janet, introduced to Táta and – amusingly – a little ginger cat called Emma(!), chatted for a bit before retiring to bed.

Day 2: Reacquainting oneself with Reykjavik…

17 Júní, Icelandic National Day: a review round-up

The 17 June is Þjóðhátíðardagurinn (Icelandic National Day) and celebrates the day in 1944 that The Republic of Iceland (Lýðveldið Ísland) was formed. The date of 17 June was chosen because it is the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, a major figure of Icelandic culture and the leader of the 19th century Icelandic independence movement.

The 17 June is also the one-month anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, The End Of All Worlds. By way of celebration of both of these events, now seems like an excellent time for a round-up of the brilliant reviews I’ve had so far for my novel, The End Of All Worlds.

5.0 out of 5 stars Book Lover, 17 Jun 2012
By LeKeishs
I really enjoyed this book! Took me a few days to finish but it is so worth the read. I’m like obsessed with paranormal, fantasy, Sci-fi, etc… so this book wasn’t as big a leap from what I usually read. It tells of the Huldufolk in the Icelandic Mountains trying to save their home as well as protect it from evil. Now, I’ve never been to Iceland, but I imagine if I were to venture there now i’d be kinda spooked or maybe too curious for my own good. Reading this book has only heightened my love for all things legends and folklore. The author did an amazing job and trust me, you will not be disappointed. I just recommended this book to my cousin who is just as obsessed about all things legends as I am. It’s truly a great read!

5.0 out of 5 stars amazing 🙂 !!!, 16 Jun 2012
By gemgem
I have not finish the book yet only a few chapters, i think the text is easy to read the little drawings on the chapter pages are a lovely touch. the story its self is very addective i cant put the book down and i have enjoyed very bit i have read its been a very long time since a book got me hoocked so fast. Great book would very highly recommend it to every one

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasantly surprised!, 15 Jun 2012
By LindaKnightHall (Dorset, UK)
Not my “usual” thing, I wasn’t sure this book was going to hold my interest for the duration. I needn’t have worried! Combining modern science and ancient folklore, this book takes you on a journey from the dangers of Iceland’s natural elements to the supernatural world of the huldufolk and their fight to preserve their ancient home and protect them, and us, from evil. Starting off it was, seemingly, a tale of one woman’s survival against the unforgiving Icelandic weather and her family’s struggle to come to terms with the fact she may be lost forever.It soon developed into something much more complex and unusual and I got immersed in the characters’ journeys through time and the race to save our world. I was pleasanlty surprised by this book and I look forward to more from this talented author.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy with an icy twist, 24 May 2012
By hdd (worcester, uk)
I’m not a reader of fantasy fiction, but what makes this story different is the overarching theme of climate change, the effect people have on their environments, and most of all the setting of Iceland. The author clearly knows the country well, and I found it fascinating to read a story set here, which definitely gives a twist to the story. It’s an atmospheric, original story, well-told by an author who has a gift for writing fantasy fiction with a wider appeal. I can imagine this story being enjoyed by both young adults and adults.

5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!, 17 May 2012
By Emej
I really enjoyed this book. It has a good mixture of science and fantasy in it and keeps you rivited throughout. The folklore and history in Iceland is fascinating and I can’t wait to visit there to find out more. I will be expecting to see huldufolk hiding in the rocks of course.

Want to learn more about Icelandic culture, myth and folklore, and threats to our environment? Why not find out what the fuss is all about!

Amazon UK | Amazon US (available for Kindle and Paperback)

Sunday afternoons in January were made for browsing holiday brochures

It has always been the case that Sunday afternoons in January were made for researching holidays. We have been considering a trip to Greenland this year, but we’ve decided that we can’t really afford to do it justice. There are no roads on Greenland and so whilst we could afford to go one location, you really need to fly (by plane or helicopter) or take boats to get about more widely. Iceland however would be a suitable alternative, and we get the opportunity to spend a bit longer in Reykjavik and see more of my family whilst over there.

By chance, lured in by a picture of the traditional turf-roofed farm houses, I stumpled upon Ferðaþjónusta bænda, a tour company that run self-drive tours staying in farmhouses or farm guesthouses, and it looks brilliant – a full tour around the Icelandic route 1 ring-road. I will see more things that I have not seen before, and be able to show Emma some of the things I have done before.

The only question that remains is when? From 16 September their winter season starts and its cheaper, but August might be a better time for the road trip. The pre-maid tour looks good, but I wonder whether what options (and prices?) there might be to a custom one to stay in less places and stay for longer, but less time in the overall trip (the last two days and the first day) focus on bits that are quite close to Reykjavik and might be doable from there. Oh the fun of investigating these things… 😀

Before we can go anywhere we both need knew passports. We tried to pick up forms yesterday at the post office, but they appeared to be strangely missing. Discovered today that you can actually fill out the form online and they’ll post it to you complete the declarations etc. So I did, but what, the website was soooo slow, and then when I did finally get to submit (they warn you not to press submit more than once, but I’m not sure how you could considering after you’ve pressed it it disappears?!?) it took an age and then returned me to a completely different Home Office site without so much as a confirmation so I assume they received it. I shall wait and see what comes in the post…

For my own reference

Eyjafjallajokull: Spectacular and Awesome

More from Eyjafjallajokull

As ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano continued to keep European airspace shut down over the weekend, affecting millions of travelers around the world, some government agencies and airlines clashed over the flight bans. Some restricted airspace is now beginning to open up and some limited flights are being allowed now as airlines are pushing for the ability to judge safety conditions for themselves. The volcano continues to rumble and hurl ash skyward, if at a slightly diminished rate now, as the dispersing ash plume has dropped closer to the ground, and the World Health Organization has issued a health warning to Europeans with respiratory conditions. Collected here are some images from Iceland over the past few days.

( 35 photos total )


Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokul April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


The volcano in southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier sends ash into the air just prior to sunset ON Friday, April 16, 2010. Thick drifts of volcanic ash blanketed parts of rural Iceland on Friday as a vast, invisible plume of grit drifted over Europe, emptying the skies of planes and sending hundreds of thousands in search of hotel rooms, train tickets or rental cars. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)


Long lens view of farm near the Eyjafjallajokull volcano as it continues to billow smoke and ash during an eruption late on April 17, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


A car is seen driving near Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Iceland, through the ash from the volcano eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier on Thursday April 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Omar Oskarsson)


Chunks of ice from a glacial flood triggered by a volcanic eruption lie in front of the still-erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokul on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


Ash covers vegetation in Eyjafjallasveit, southern Iceland April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Ingolfur Juliusson)


This aerial photo shows the Eyjafjallajokull volcano billowing smoke and ash on April 17, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


A woman stands near a waterfall that has been dirtied by ash that has accumulated from the plume of an erupting volcano near Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland on April 18, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


Horses fight near the town of Sulfoss, Iceland as a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull erupts on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


Farmer Thorarinn Olafsson tries to lure his horse back to the stable as a cloud of black ash looms overhead in Drangshlid at Eyjafjoll on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Ingolfur Juliusson)


A small plane (upper left) flies past smoke and ash billowing from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokul, Iceland on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


Smoke billows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull on April 16, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


The sun sets in a sky dusted with ash, over Lake Geneva, as seen from the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, a UNESCO site in Switzerland, on April 17, 2010. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)


The volcano in southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier sends ash into the air Saturday, April 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)


Farmers team up to rescue cattle from exposure to the toxic volcanic ash at a farm in Nupur, Iceland, as the volcano in southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier sends ash into the air Saturday, April 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)


A rescue team helps landowners to clear volcanic ash from a roof in Seljavellir, Iceland on April 18, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


Sheep farmer Thorkell Eiriksson (R) and his brother-in-law Petur Runottsson work to seal a sheep barn, in case winds shift and ash from a volcano erupting across the valley lands on their farm, in Eyjafjallajokull April 17, 2010. The current season is when the spring lambs are born and such young animals are especially susceptible to volcanic ash in their lungs so they must be stored inside. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


A dark ash cloud looms over the Icelandic south coast April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Ingolfur Juliusson)


Lightning, smoke and lava above Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


View seen from a road leading to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano as it continues to billow smoke and ash during an eruption on April 17, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


A man runs along the roadside, taking pictures of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano as it continues to billow smoke and ash during an eruption on April 17, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


A huge ash cloud creeps over the Icelandic south coast April 16, 2010. (REUTERS/Ingolfur Juliusson)


Wearing a mask and goggles to protect against the smoke, dairy farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir from Nupur, Iceland, looks for cattle lost in ash clouds, Saturday, April 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)


A farmer checks muddy volcanic ash on his land in Iceland on April 18, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


This aerial image shows the crater spewing ash and plumes of grit at the summit of the volcano in southern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier Saturday April 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Arnar Thorisson/Helicopter.is)


A pilot takes pictures of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano billowing smoke and ash during an eruption on April 17, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


Construction crews repair a road damaged by floods from glacial melting caused by a volcano in Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


Horses graze in a field near the Eyjafjallajokull volcano as it continues to billow dark smoke and ash during an eruption late on April 17, 2010. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


Ingi Sveinbjoernsso leads his horses on a road covered volcanic ash back to his barn in Yzta-baeli, Iceland on April 18, 2010. They come galloping out of the volcanic storm, hooves muffled in the ash, manes flying. 24 hours earlier he had lost the shaggy Icelandic horses in an ash cloud that turned day into night, blanketing the landscape in sticky gray mud. (HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images)


The ash plume of southwestern Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano streams southwards over the Northern Atlantic Ocean in a satellite photograph made April 17, 2010. The erupting volcano in Iceland sent new tremors on April 19, but the ash plume which has caused air traffic chaos across Europe has dropped to a height of about 2 km (1.2 mi), the Meteorological Office said. (REUTERS/NERC Satellite Receiving Station, Dundee University, Scotland)


A woman makes a phone call in the empty arrival hall of Prague’s Ruzyne Airport after all flights were grounded due to volcanic ash in the skies coming from Iceland April 18, 2010. Air travel across much of Europe was paralyzed for a fourth day on Sunday by a huge cloud of volcanic ash, but Dutch and German test flights carried out without apparent damage seemed to offer hope of respite. (REUTERS/David W Cerny)


Lava and lightning light the crater of Eyjafjallajokul volcano on April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)


The first of 3 photos by Olivier Vandeginste, taken 10 km east of Hvolsvollur at a distance 25 km from the Eyjafjallajokull craters on April 18th, 2010. Lightning and motion-blurred ash appear in this 15-second exposure. (© Olivier Vandeginste)


The second of 3 photos by Olivier Vandeginste, taken 25 km from the Eyjafjallajokull craters on April 18th, 2010. The ash plume is lit from within by multiple flashes of lightning in this 168 second exposure. (© Olivier Vandeginste)


The third of 3 photos by Olivier Vandeginste, taken 10 km east of Hvolsvollur Iceland on April 18th, 2010. Lightning flashes and glowing lava illuminate parts of Eyjafjallajokull’s massive ash plume in this 30-second exposure. (© Olivier Vandeginste)

More links and information
Olivier Vandeginste – photographer’s blog, and more of his volcano photos
Photographing Iceland’s Fiery Volcano – NYTimes.com Lens Blog, 4/18
Volcano cloud as it happens – Live blog from BBC News